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Long known for its dwindling population, Vermont sees a recent uptick in new residents

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2022 Public Assets Institute
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Vermont experienced the highest net population growth the state has seen in at least the last decade, with nearly 5,000 people moving to the Green Mountain State between 2020 and 2021, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Vermont experienced the highest net population growth the state has seen in at least the last decade, with nearly 5-thousand people moving to the Green Mountain State between 2020 and 2021. That’s according to the most recent census estimates.

Part of the trend has to do with an influx of people who moved to Vermont during the pandemic, and it represents a sea change from earlier years. The increase follows a net loss in population in 2019 and totals more than two-and-a-half times the number of people that relocated to Vermont in 2018.

And another shift: While previous trends show that new arrivals to Vermont usually came from outside the U.S., the new figures indicate that most of the pandemic relocation to Vermont came from people within the country, moving here from other states.

Vermont Public's Mitch Wertlieb spoke with VTDigger’s data and graphics reporter Erin Petenko to interpret the data and see what this new trend means for Vermont. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: First of all, can you break down the data for us? Who is moving to the state, what do the numbers tell us?

Erin Petenko: Yeah, so this is data coming from the U.S. Census Bureau. And what it shows is essentially the net change in the number of migrants. So it says that there were 4,800 more people coming to the state than left the state. And that is a significant reversal from previous years.

Now, we don't actually have a lot of details on where people are coming from from the census data. We do know that some of the nearby states, like New York, lost people during the pandemic. So it's not too far of a stretch of the imagination to say that some of them came here. But it still is kind of a new field to study. And even the researchers I've talked to said that this is kind of the first confirmation that they've had that this is definitely happening compared to kind of the anecdotes that they've heard from people in the local communities about, "Oh, a new person moved in this year."

And most of the time, when we think about people moving to Vermont, in recent years, we've seen a lot of refugees moving to the state — people who are coming from other countries. But the data does seem to indicate that people are moving from within the U.S. to come to Vermont over that past couple of pandemic years.

Yeah. And that's kind of an interesting trend that definitely seems to be touched off by the pandemic's ability to work remotely combined with kind of a increased interest in changing up your lifestyle during the pandemic. We don't know how many of those people are actually going to stay. But we do know that a lot of people came here because of their interest in Vermont due to the pandemic.

You know one thing that I've noticed an uptick in — and this is such a small, tiny thing — but there's a Vermont sub-Reddit where people on Reddit talk about life in Vermont, and every day there are at least two or three posts on, "Where should I move in Vermont? What's it like living in Vermont? Should I move to Vermont?" — to the point where they actually created a separate community just for those people to talk.

What about some of the counties that have seen the most growth? Erin, I'm looking at a graphic right now from the Public Assets Institute that I know you've seen too. Where are some of the highest numbers of people moving to?

When I first dug into some very early data from the census, suggesting that people were moving in, it kind of showed a trend towards ski areas and other tourist areas. It suggested to me that out-of-staters have a lot of interest in moving to the kind of places they're already familiar with, or give them a lot of recreational opportunities. But this data is interesting because it shows a much broader trend of people kind of moving throughout the state with a particular concentration in southern Vermont, Windham County, Windsor County and also a surprising trend of people moving to Grand Isle County.

Surprising too that you didn't automatically say Chittenden County seeing the largest growth because that's what we always sort of assume. We've heard it's the most populous county of course, but that's where most of the work is — most of the opportunities. But the numbers that you're seeing aren't necessarily indicating that Chittenden County is where most of the people are going?

Chittenden County did gain a significant number of people. But compared to its population, it wasn't the highest. And it also gained the most people in the past year due to international migration. So, especially when you focus on just domestic migration, it didn't seem to have as much appeal to people. And that international migration has been kind of a long-term trend. A lot of international migrants seem to come to Chittenden County, whether that's because that's where their community is, that's where services are or that's because they want kind of an urban environment. I can kind of see that being a combination of factors. Oh, and of course, job opportunities are a big factor. But if you can work remotely like a lot of these domestic migrants can, you might be seeking out specifically a rural environment. That's a change up from where you might work in an office in your day-to-day life.

Vermont is not the only New England state that has seen a real big influx of people. Maine and New Hampshire both gained about 15,000 new residents, apparently. That's more than doubled the year before the pandemic. What can you tell us about these other New England states seeing an influx of people?

I think that's kind of part of the same overall trend. I talked to a researcher who collected cellphone data in the early days of the pandemic. And that showed that even within just New England itself, people were going from more urban areas of New England to less rural areas of New England. From Boston to rural New Hampshire, rural Maine, rural Vermont. So it does seem to be kind of connected.

These figures are so interesting — the numbers themselves seeing more people moving to Vermont, that goes against what we've heard in recent years. But the tough part is what you've alluded to already. Are these folks going to stay? And do you think we'll continue to see this trend of out-of-staters moving to Vermont? Or is this just a pandemic bump?

I think that this particular year of data is definitely going to be skewed. I mean, we're going to see the effects of that first year of the pandemic in many ways. We're not going to have such a ridiculous job loss like we had the first months of the pandemic. We're not going to have such a strange environment of reality that we had in the first months of the pandemic. But I have seen plenty of people in my life who have transitioned into permanent remote work. And that does give people more general opportunities going into the future to choose what kind of environment they want to live in, what kind of lifestyle they want to live separate from their job. Of course, there also may be second homeowners who have different opportunities now to either stay in Vermont for longer or to spend different parts of the year in Vermont, have a different relationship with their residency here. And that might be playing a role as well.

Have questions, comments, or concerns? Send us a message or tweet your thoughts to @mwertlieb.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station WBUR...as a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Karen is Vermont Public's Managing Producer of Morning News. She manages the morning news content on broadcast and digital platforms, and works with Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb to bring listeners the latest news and information, along with relevant interviews. Karen has a long history with public radio, beginning in the early 2000's with the launch of the weekly classical music program, Sunday Bach. Karen's undergraduate degree is in Broadcast Journalism, and she has worked for public radio in Vermont and St. Louis, MO, in areas of production, programming, traffic, operations and news. She produces the Vermont Public Choral Hour, with host Linda Radtke. Karen recently worked with co-producer Betty Smith on a national collaboration with StoryCorps One Small Step, connecting Vermonters one conversation at a time.
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